053 | Thierry Cruvellier | Ukraine's other war

Ukraine wages war on the ground, in media... and in the courts.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

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"Ukraine has provided us with the most striking, swift and complete legal offensive or lawfare strategy that has ever been implemented," says Thierry Cruvellier, founder of justiceinfo.net and a journalist specialising in international justice. We discussed lawfare in light of Ukraine's strategy – is it a communication tool or can the courts really make Russia back off? We also covered the profound transformation of international justice, legal innovations in the Global South that are schooling us and how justice is finally coming for the West. Also listen for two French people pondering why we still can't talk about the Algerian War. Don't miss a new episode of Borderline.

In this episode

🇺🇦 Ukraine's aggressive lawfare strategy
⚖️ International justice finally comes for the West
🤐 Why former great powers can't cope with their colonial crimes
🇫🇷 Reckoning with the Algerian War
🇨🇩 The DR Congo schools us on prosecuting environmental destruction
🇨🇴 Transitional justice lessons from Colombia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and more
🕊 Restitutions, reparations and truth commissions – justice beyond the courts

Show notes

[00:00:16] Intro
[00:01:42] "There is a before Ukraine and an after Ukraine"
[00:07:18] "Justice has become the third weapon of Ukraine's strategy"
[00:11:46] Is lawfare a communication tool?
[00:15:39] The slow wheels of the ICC
[00:18:43] Justice gets much more pragmatic at the local level: the example of environmental crimes in the DRC
[00:25:52] A renewed interest in justice for indigenous people
[00:28:58] Colombia, a case study for all-encompassing transitional justice
[00:30:14] Why are some countries better than other at looking into their colonial past?
[00:32:26] The restitution of pillaged objects
[00:34:28] A generational reckoning with colonial crimes: the French Algerian war
[00:40:13] Statues, history vs memory and the new frontline of transitional justice
[00:42:53] Outro

🌍 justiceinfo.net
📚 The Master of Confessions, by Thierry Cruvellier. Ecco Press. 2015. Find it here.


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[00:00:00] Thierry Cruvellier: Ukraine has provided us with, I think, the most striking, the most rapid, the most swift and complete legal offensive or lawfare strategy that has ever been implemented.

[00:00:16] Intro

[00:00:16] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

Is international law still relevant when one country so flippantly ignores it? And can the very battered concept of international justice itself find new life outside of the criminal courts when the people take it in hand? Can it finally address the crimes, not just of warlords and aggressive dictators, but of the very powerful states that set up the concept, thinking they'd never have to answer for their own crimes of colonisation enslavement and exploitation.

I explored all of these questions with Thierry Cruvellier, a journalist I met more than a decade ago when we were both covering the international Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh. Thierry has made it a specialty of covering international justice, founding justiceinfo.net, a bilingual French English news site that goes deep in the weeds of international courts and transitional justice. But this conversation, do not worry, is for everyone, not just lawyers.

From Ukraine to the French Algerian war, from New Zealand to Colombia, Scandinavia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we talked about war and lawfare, indigenous rights, environmental crimes, tearing down statues and reckoning with colonisation. So settle in get comfortable. This is a fascinating one. Here is my conversation with Thierry Cruvellier.

[00:01:42] "There is a before Ukraine and an after Ukraine"

[00:01:42] Isabelle Roughol: Thierry, when I reached out to you to come on the podcast, I was thinking about the Khmer Rouge tribunal that we both covered, and that's how we met, and international criminal justice in general. And you told me, "sure, I'll come on the podcast, but that's boring. We'll have to talk about something else."

So, I thought we should start by you kind of explaining what you told me then and, why do you think that the picture that we have in our minds of international justice is maybe a bit outdated or not as interesting as what's actually happening?

[00:02:16] Thierry Cruvellier: Well, in a way, there is now a prior Ukraine and after Ukraine. And so when we last talked, I don't think I had anticipated how Ukraine would sort of change the landscape to some extent.

What was striking to me before the invasion by Russia of Ukraine, was how the field of international justice had changed in a way that the usual core crimes that this field of work is dealing with, which were war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, was still there of course. We still have wars, we still have dictatorships. And so, we still have processes, trials, truth commissions or reparations programs that are dealing with these crimes.

But what was striking is how firstly, it wasn't anymore at the international level, that the most exciting, creative initiatives were taking place, but rather at the national level, and that international tribunals, which have attracted all the attention in the past, you know, almost 30 years, were no longer the places where, I think, the most interesting stuff was happening.

Two, that the field had expanded to all sorts of type of violence. I mean, still mass violence, contemporary forms of it that were not about war or dictatorship. So, entire new fields have opened up to the transitional justice, as we call it, field of work. And that is for instance the environment. So environmental crimes have developed quite a lot. But also the colonial past, for instance, or the indigenous people's rights or completely different types of violence, including police violence, state violence in countries that are peaceful and even democratic. It could include for instance miner strikes in the UK, in the eighties or in other countries like France, for instance, in the, in the sixties, or to sexual abuse in the Church, for instance, where we could see classic transitional justice mechanisms, such as truth commissions, commissions of inquiry or reparations programs, or memory works, or state apologies... You know, this entire spectrum of justice response to some form of state or political violence, being applied to these other crimes.

And so the whole debate was becoming actually in a way more healthy and more interesting and more dynamic and perhaps more equal because in the past it used to be a bit of a Western, Northern model applied to countries, let's say in the Global South to make it a bit easy. And all of a sudden it's just all these mechanisms and, ideologies, legal ideologies and cultures that have developed through these international tribunals and that were very much Western-minded and applied to everyone but the West, have sort of got back to the, to the West, to the North. And the whole conversation now on transitional justice is much more relevant and alive in the North about crimes or violence that affect the North very much. Both in its past, that is when we talk about colonial crimes, or in its present, like when we talk about environment. Police violence, or sexual abuse in the Church.

So that was in my view the picture prior to Ukraine and that is still the picture. The world has not stopped, you know, moving and living since Russia invaded Ukraine. But I have to say that something changed dramatically in the past month is that the traditional, the most classic expression of transitional justice, which is international justice through war crimes, is very much back the picture and prominent. Ukraine is an amazing example on how the conversation on war crimes is back to the news and it's largely in its most traditional, classic concern.

[00:07:18] "Justice has become the third weapon of Ukraine's strategy"

[00:07:18] Isabelle Roughol: Okay. And we're going to talk about everything you mentioned before, cause I think as you said, it's still very much present. But since we're in the news, how exactly has Ukraine changed this conversation? or, or For people who don't follow this as closely as you do, how is international justice even involved in Ukraine right now? Are there other cases that have been opened in the past few weeks?

[00:07:41] Thierry Cruvellier: Yeah, that's what surprised me. Like, definitely took me by surprise. But basically Ukraine of course is about war. It's really about the original scene in a way, the original crime. The crime that was dealt with through the Nuremberg trials. So it's about war. It's about crimes committed during a war. And in that sense, it's really back to the original business of international justice, which was born out of war-related violence. That's the start.

What is amazing and what is in my view without precedent with what's going on in Ukraine is how justice has become what we could call the third weapon of Ukraine's strategy to fight back after it was invaded by Russia.

Of course, the first response is armed resistance. We all see that. The second was economic sanctions that were taken right after the invasion. But very quickly, like immediately in the very days that followed the invasion, Ukraine showed a very sophisticated understanding on how law and justice should be part of their strategy to win that war in another way, before the public opinion and before international law.

And so they mobilised within a few days, they mobilised all the major international settings that exist. That means the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which deals with disputes between states, the International Criminal Court, which is that permanent court that deals with individuals and with these basic core crimes of international law: war crimes, crimes against humanity, or even genocide. As well as a regional court, which is the European Court for Human Rights. And, on top of it, the national judiciary of Ukraine is completely mobilised to prepare for a legal response, justice response to the crimes committed by the Russian army. And it's very well equipped, very well prepared because the war for Ukraine started in 2014 when Russia first invaded Crimea, and when Donbass, the Eastern part of Ukraine has also become a frontline. And ever since 2014, there has been armed activities in that Eastern part of the country. So since 2014, the Ukrainian judiciary is investigating such kind of crimes. So when the invasion, the full invasion started, the national system was already prepared, was already well, accustomed to these crimes.

And then thirdly, a growing number of states, it's like every week, there's a new state, in Europe in particular, announcing national investigations into crimes committed as part of the invasion. And and so we see really I think a picture that we've never seen before, where lawfare as we call it, which is a strategy to basically fight against your enemy on legal grounds, showing the world that the law is on your side, and that your opponent or enemy or your invader is just breaking international law, so as opposed to warfare. Ukraine has provided us with, I think the most striking, the most rapid, the most swift and complete legal offensive or lawfare strategy that has ever been implemented.

[00:11:46] Is lawfare a communication tool?

[00:11:46] Isabelle Roughol: Is lawfare kind of a political communication tool, a way to message something, or a diplomatic tool, or are legal consequences really all that important to an invader like Russia? It doesn't seem like Putin cares that much that he's breaking international law. So I'm just wondering how effective is it? Or is it just about sending a message to the rest of the world that you are in the right?

[00:12:10] Thierry Cruvellier: It's probably a mix. In the short-term it's obviously a political fight to win the support of the international community to make Russia very weak at the international level, and to gather the support of as many nations as you can, at the United nations in particular, to support your case as an invaded country. So it's highly political. Yes. It's to win public opinion. It's to win the communication war, which is, instrumental in such kind of conflicts.

So that's for the short term. There's no way the Russia is going to comply with anything that these courts are ordering today. And we already saw it because at least two international courts, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, have very quickly ordered Russia to cease immediately their military activities in Ukraine and they haven't obviously. So there's no expectation that this is going to affect Russia's behaviour much, or end the war in the short term. Let alone the International Criminal Court, which is extremely slow traditionally, and so, there's no way we can expect also trials of Russian agents anytime soon.

So obviously in that sense, lawfare is a political tool. In the long run, it can become a justice tool. You never know how these develop over time. It will depend on so many factors that we can't foresee, that we can't anticipate, including the political situation within Russia. how Putin's regime will survive this conflict. Will it come out of it strengthened? Or weakened? Or defeated? All this will have an obvious impact on how justice as such can develop and the prospect of having trials, which today is hard to imagine, may totally change with time. And we've seen that in many other instances. Time is a complicated thing when it comes to justice. But it always plays a big role.

So I think to your question, yes. I think it's a mix. It's obviously a communication, a political communication strategy and tool. But eventually it becomes a legal issue, because justice doesn't stop. The courts won't stop dealing with it and they will certainly want to make a point that they are legal bodies and that breaking international law, which Russia has obviously done, has consequences, including reparations or these kinds of things. Does it mean that these decisions will ever be implemented? But at some point it will be a legal debate and it will be a legal response to an armed move, to a military move.

[00:15:25] Isabelle Roughol: Because as you pointed out, justice operates on a completely different timescale, right? So in a way it's slow and it can be frustratingly so, and, and in another way, it has time. It doesn't give up or, or one hopes.

[00:15:39] The slow wheels of the ICC

[00:15:39] Isabelle Roughol: But last time we talked, you were very skeptical because you pointed out, and we talked just as the Ukraine war was starting, and you pointed out to me that, I think it was the ICC that was, or the ICJ I forget sorry, that had a case open with Ukraine since the Donbass invasion of 2014 and then nothing came out of it.

[00:16:00] Thierry Cruvellier: There's a bit of a paradox when it comes to the International Criminal Court, when it comes to Ukraine, because actually the ICC, as we call it, has been supposed to work on crimes committed in Ukraine since 2014. And it hasn't come up with anything, not even the opening of an investigation. The court has shamefully stayed at the examination level.

And so Ukraine just like Georgia, where there was also a case of a Russian invasion, on which the ICC had been seized and had some form of jurisdiction, in both countries the court has remained for years without making a move. And all of a sudden, in the week or so, or the two weeks that followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the ICC prosecutor announced the opening of the investigation in Ukraine, which his office has never done for eight years. And he announced the first arrest warrants on Georgia, which he's also been sleeping on for six years.

So it's kind of a situation where the ICC is jumping on the train because it knows that it would be completely irrelevant if it doesn't deal with the very situation that the world is focusing on these days, and the situation that matters to all the main members and donors of the ICC, which is Western states in particular.

So they are jumping on the train and trying to hide all their shortcomings or failures of the past few years without ever mentioning them. So there's a bit of an irony that Ukraine has become, or is perhaps becoming, sort of, how do you call that lifesaving, what you have on boats?

[00:18:08] Isabelle Roughol: Oh, wait. Yes. Uh, Here's two French people looking for that word in English. I see what you mean.

[00:18:15] Thierry Cruvellier: but that life-saving equipment that, you know, you, that you throw to someone who is actually drowning. Ukraine looks a bit like this because all of a sudden, everybody is supporting the ICC. All the states are promising new funds and promising to support the investigations. And the ICC is sort of using this. First, it should be reminded how they failed Ukraine up to now.

[00:18:43] Justice gets much more pragmatic at the local level: the example of environmental crimes in the DRC

[00:18:43] Isabelle Roughol: And the ICC. I mean, I was, just before we started chatting, I was looking at their website and looking at older defendants and I mean, a big criticism, and you touched on that, has been that it has been essentially the West or the North, you know, exacting its justice on the Global South. And then if you look at the defendants list, they're every single one, a Black or Arabic man, uh, one woman, one black woman. But nearly all the cases are in Africa or the Middle East. so how has that impacted the legitimacy of international justice? You said some really interesting things in the beginning about how international justice was actually starting to change and to look at colonial crimes and to pay attention to the crimes of other countries, other states and other civilisations as well.

[00:19:31] Thierry Cruvellier: Yeah. We need to try to see how we clarify the concepts we use, because when we talk about international justice, we're not talking necessarily about international courts. We're dealing about the kind of crimes that international justice is interested in. So that means the main international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, but they can be dealt with at the national level. Let's agree that we still call that international justice. And that field, I think, has remained extremely dynamic, as I said at the beginning of our conversation and very creative at the local and national level, and really lively. When at the level of international tribunals, so that part of international justice that is really, dealt with by international institutions, these institutions have become much less relevant and much less interesting. The ICC has never really touched upon environmental crimes even though it's been called to do so. It's unable to deal with colonial past because it's too old. And it doesn't deal with other forms of contemporary crimes that some of them, it said it would let, like land grabbing or human trafficking, hasn't done anything. And some of them, because it can't, it has no jurisdiction. That would be social violence, like police violence or the other examples I gave where the court is irrelevant.

So that was the picture. And when it came to these contemporary forms of violence, it was really at the national level that the conversation, or the action was, down to courts that nobody really pays attention to.

You know, on environmental crimes, it's complicated because everybody's concerned by the environment. So, so it's a big deal worldwide for every country in the world. It matters. And so as a result, international lawyers and international NGOs need to be part of that conversation. And there's a lot of, you know, events and conferences and legal moves that are very technical and do not really really.... So far, I mean, it's part of the game, but so far they do not really transform into actual trials and actual convictions, especially when it comes to corporates for instance, or corporate responsibility

That is much more happening at the local level. And as I said, sometimes in places that nobody's thinking about. Let me give you one example. There are a number of local military courts taking care of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Eastern Congo. So in the part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where actually you still have armed groups all around, active. Attacks are taking place every week. It's a very poor place, the judiciary has no means. So they work in the most, you know, challenging conditions one can imagine, these military courts. And yet they're coming out with war crimes judgements. About between 50 and 60 judgements so far have been, you know, released by these courts.

And I can remember one of them, but it was not the only one, but there were a couple of them, where the court convicted some of these militia men for the destruction of nature. So typically for an environmental crime. They didn't need to come up with very sophisticated definitions, you know, on what is ecocide or what is environmental crimes. They just know. They just know what is essential is you destroyed nature in a way that affects the entire community. It's a crime and that's how they call it. One of them was actually convicted for "destruction méchante de la nature", you know, evil destruction of, or mean destruction of nature. And I think that's just a fascinating and extremely concrete and valuable development so that you could see in the most impoverished and threatened legal system you can get. So that's one example.

[00:24:13] Isabelle Roughol: That's interesting because that's justice that's happening, you know, very much on the ground, in view of the community and the people who are impacted. And it sounds like it's very pragmatic, you know, it's not intellectualised and theorised. It's very pragmatic and it's justice done by people who still have to live through that conflict.

And it sounds like it's perhaps more concerned with justice, but also the practicalities on the ground of seeking conflict resolution and peace. I find it fascinating how you deliver justice in a situation where a conflict is still ongoing and you have to live in the middle of it as a as a community.

[00:24:56] Thierry Cruvellier: And the fact that they come up with one of the few, in a way, one of the few, uh, jurisprudence on environmental crimes, says a lot about how these crimes are real to them and that they have to give a response to them as opposed to international courts that may not see directly, not see it in front of their door and allow themselves to take years before taking cases.

At the national level, the urgency is much more obvious. And as you said, you don't need to be sophisticated in terms of legal concepts and thinking to address the crimes that are happening or the violence that is being committed on land, on water, on things that affect millions.

[00:25:52] A renewed interest in justice for indigenous people

[00:25:52] Isabelle Roughol: What are some some other examples of transitional justice? Things that you're seeing, that you're finding interesting, wherever in the world?

[00:26:01] Thierry Cruvellier: One of the things that I have found pretty interesting in the past few years is how indigenous peoples' rights have become a much bigger issue and a much bigger focus of all sorts of justice initiatives and mechanisms. And it's interesting because these are minority groups that have not attracted much attention before. They're usually restricted, in their access to land, to equal rights and to equal opportunities in many countries where they used to be the original peoples and they've been colonised or invaded in one way or another. And because it's very linked to the concern about environment, because they are suddenly considered as protectors of nature, and it's also linked to the rise of a demand for justice on colonial crimes and colonial violence, of which they have been, of course, among the primary victims.

So all of a sudden, there are many things that have been done to address the crimes committed against these indigenous peoples, in Canada, for instance, in New Zealand and right now, interestingly in the entire Scandinavia, in Norway, Sweden, Finland, with the exception of Russia, of course. But in those three countries, we have truth commissions that are addressing the violence that has been committed years ago, but that has consequences up to now, against the Sami people. This I find is a really interesting development because you see very industrialised, rich societies having to confront themselves with their own violent past and their own crimes from the past. And they can do it in a way sometimes, with the ambition to transform themselves and their society into a form that would include more or less deeply, the very values and traditions of these indigenous peoples.

You see that actually a lot in... New Zealand is definitely ahead of everyone in that respect with some of the values and including the legal, in a way the law, as they see it among indigenous peoples, being included in the national legal system. So that's a very interesting development.

[00:28:58] Colombia, a case study for all-encompassing transitional justice

[00:28:58] Thierry Cruvellier: Otherwise I think another story that everybody should have in mind and take a look at is Colombia, where here it's a sort of a more classic case of a country that is coming out of a very long armed conflict. But what Colombia is doing right now is trying to, to accomplish the full spectrum of transitional justice.

It's extremely ambitious, obviously too ambitious, but also very creative, very fascinating to watch, where all the dimensions of justice are supposed to be addressed by post-war transitional justice programs. So it deals with land reform. It deals with the reparations. It deals with a mix of punishment and leniency, with the option of not having a prison response, but a more creative one. Uh, it deals with political participation. It deals with truth, of course, and all sorts of aspects. So Colombia is engaged into a massive transitional justice process that will remain a case study in the field for years to come.

[00:30:14] Why are some countries better than other at looking into their colonial past?

[00:30:14] Isabelle Roughol: You mentioned Scandinavia, you mentioned New Zealand was ahead on this. And then you see countries, where you see an extremely violent backlash and refusal to even talk about or to deal with that heritage of history. Australia is pretty terrible with its relationship with indigenous people. The US, you know, you get violent protests when you talk about slavery.

[00:30:39] Thierry Cruvellier: Australia is very conflicted with it. You're right. And to the point that since there was no federal response, the state of Victoria has already decided to set up their own truth commission on crimes committed against indigenous people. The US is definitely struggling harder than any other country perhaps, when it comes to dealing with its own violent past and colonial past, and the whole treatment of both Native Americans and the Black community. Obviously these are countries that are very reluctant to engage in implementing these transitional justice processes that would help them, you know, dealing with this in a more productive, constructive, and transformative way.

France is not very good either. If you take just the Algeria war, which is another colonial trauma, it's pathetic. It's amazing how the political class is unready and unable to just look at this war of, you know, 60 years ago in the light of what these countries have become and what societies have become able to address today.

So, yes, some countries are struggling heavily, more than others. And that's also fascinating to watch and to try to analyse and why this country is better than the other at dealing with its own past. I mean, the Netherlands is also very much into it when it comes to the crimes that were committed in Indonesia. So it's a fascinating aspect of it.

[00:32:26] The restitution of pillaged objects

[00:32:26] Thierry Cruvellier: The other aspect of this colonial crimes situation is about the restitution of cultural objects and heritage that was pillaged and stolen during colonisation.

And that was triggered only like a three or four years ago, actually by the French president in a way. And so now you've got many countries and many museums in let's say the North, that are having to deal with giving back these dozens of thousands of cultural objects, in particular to Africa. It also is a story for other parts of the world, in Asia and everywhere where colonial powers established, but it's much more important, bigger, deeper with Africa because the African continent, it is said, has lost about 80% of its cultural wealth and heritage during colonisation. So a massive loss.

And the whole debate on how you restitute, how you give back this cultural heritage that is their own, is fascinating because it's, it has lots of different dimension. It's legal, it's also technical cause some of these pieces of art are very fragile and you need to know how you give them back. But it's also highly political. It's also a matter of how you redefine the relationship between former colonising powers and former colonised peoples. So in that sense, in the way this whole debate and restitution will unfold will depend a new relationship between these countries based on a real sort of post-colonial or decolonized understanding.

[00:34:28] A generational reckoning with colonial crimes: the French Algerian war

[00:34:28] Isabelle Roughol: A lot of this must be generational as well. I mean you mentioned the Algerian war. It's fascinating because this month is the 60th anniversary of the peace accords in 62. Uh, so there's been a lot of coverage in French media and I find it fascinating because I learned next to nothing about the Algerian War when I was in school. It was still too raw, I guess. It had been, I don't know, 30 years, 40 years when I was in school and somehow we still couldn't talk about it. And so now, as an adult I'm learning a lot. It feels like we're finally starting to talk about it and have documentaries on TV and on the radio that I just never had heard any of that.

I don't know if it's a generational thing that we're finally distant enough that we're able to talk about it without people getting defensive or without the stakes being so high that you can't have a calm conversation.

[00:35:24] Thierry Cruvellier: It's clearly a generational dimension. Yes, I think part of the French society would definitely be ready to have a very open conversation about it and time of reckoning and acknowledgement. I'm convinced about this. And I agree with you that there's much more that is being published today than anything close to what we've learned at school, in our generation. So it's there, it's boiling, but it's amazing how sensitive, raw and how can I say, it's more than reluctant... it's resisting. It is especially among the political class and leaders. It's astonishing how so many political leaders are not helping at all, to the contrary, the society to move on with this traumatising story and make it into a far more positive force.

So it's a mix, you know. Obviously the fact that Emmanuel Macron is from a different generation has made him much more innovative or ambitious when it comes to acknowledging the past and trying to create a new relationship with Algeria. But of course he's also, you know, a political leader. But anyway, he's far more free than many other political leaders. so it's complicated, but in a way, I mean, I find it frustrating. I'm with you in a sense that there is more that is being discussed and revealed and openly exposed than probably at any time before, or at least that we can remember. But it's so little and it's so difficult and it's so ridiculously invaded by ideas and positions that are so backwards and so toxic in a way.

[00:37:30] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. I mean, it wasn't like a decade ago that they tried to pass a law that would put into, you know, into law that, that colonisation had a positive role that should be taught in schools. Like w when was that? That was so recent. That was ridiculous.

[00:37:45] Thierry Cruvellier: Yeah. So it was probably during the past presidential election campaign, it was what Fillon wanted to do, the right-wing leader.

So that's what I find frustrating at the moment. Like we're far from a consensus where we could establish, for instance, a truth commission, with wise enlightened people that sort of bring the nation to that conversation that it obviously needs to have, considering the little we know and the little we accept about the past, and the consequences within the French society, between people of Algerian descent, or North African descent, and others, which is extremely damaged and bad, and unproductive. We are not at that level at all, it seems. And it's 60 years ago.

I think former lead powers, former countries that used to be even the leading power in the world, such as France, such as the UK, such as the US, have a particularly hard time dealing with their violent past. Much more in my view than countries that have never been really, they've been powerful, they've sometimes been colonial powers, but they've not been the leading powers of the world. And they're much more humble about themselves. So even France that has become, you know, just a middle power is terribly badly equipped to deal with its own violent past.

[00:39:23] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. And I mean, in these three countries you mentioned, which are the three countries I lived in and I, and I know a little, it's interesting how each of them sees themselves as having some kind of mission for the world goes beyond their own existence as a country. And that, if you tell yourself you're a force for good in the world, it's very hard to look in the mirror and see that actually not always.

[00:39:47] Thierry Cruvellier: Yeah. It's particularly true to France and the US, which have a sort of universal message to the world that is sort of deeply rooted in national conscience. And it doesn't help when you believe that you have a message to the world in a way, doesn't help you to look at yourself with distance and with a critical mind.

[00:40:13] Statues, history vs memory and the new frontline of transitional justice

[00:40:13] Isabelle Roughol: Which I found really interesting when the whole conversation around statues came about and you know, that started I guess in the States and the UK, and it came to France as well, and about who we decide to quite literally put up on a pedestal. And there was that constant confusion between what is history and what is memorialising and aggrandising and celebrating. And it seemed like in our countries, people were incapable of making the difference between the two, which....

[00:40:44] Thierry Cruvellier: Yeah, it's not at peace. These societies are clearly not at peace with their history. And there's that tension between part of the society that is asking for it, that is ready for it, and the other part that is strongly or even violently against that time of acknowledgement. So it's very tense in the US. It's very tense in France when it comes to Algeria. We see the same kind of tense debate and people are not listening to each other at all. It's not a dialogue. Fascinating to watch in a way, but it's boiling. It's there. The fact that that tension is so obvious, it's so very much in the open, is a clear sign to me that the time for acknowledgement has begun. It's already the beginning of that process. It won't be stopped.

[00:41:39] Isabelle Roughol: That's the next frontline for transitional justice, you think?

[00:41:43] Thierry Cruvellier: I think it already is. And it has different forms. It's got the restitution form, it's got the acknowledgement of the violence form. It's got a truth- seeking dimension. It's all there. It has happened. It has just not taken... In a number of countries, it has not taken a sort of institutional form that is of national legitimacy and visibility. That sort of national rendezvous has not happened in a number of these countries, but it started in others. I mean, Belgium is trying, they have a commission at the moment, which doesn't seem to be very, very, effective and it's confusing, but at least it established a body that has that sort of national legitimacy. So it's happening in some countries. It's very slow and resisting in others, but it has started. And there will be a moment where it takes that kind of institutionalised national form that everybody can refer to, to write that story.

[00:42:53] Outro

[00:42:53] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you so much to Thierry Cruvellier for this conversation and for his patience with technical issues, which hopefully you did not hear. And friends, I know. The word we were looking for earlier... was life jackets. Please, pardon our bilingual brains. This happens a lot more than you might realise.

Thierry is the author of an absolutely wonderful book, which I strongly recommend about the man in the trial that we both covered in Cambodia, Duch, a convicted Khmer Rouge criminal. Thierry's book, The Master of Confessions, "Le Maître des Aveux" in French if you're a French listener, is just absolutely beautifully written, thoroughly reported, and something that reads like a novel about a very important moment in world history.

If you're interested too in science, health and the environment, check out the Science Weekly podcast from The Guardian. It's at the guardian.com/scienceweekly. I'm thrilled to be joining them for a few weeks as executive producer. It's a fun team and we nerd out there quite a bit too. You won't hear my voice, but I'm definitely there behind the scenes and our hosts, Madi and Ian, get to try to pronounce my impossible name in the credits.

So try it with me. I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music was by Audionautix. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. I'll talk to you next time.

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Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.